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I remember sitting in my civil procedure class imagining arguing an important matter before a judge. I could recite the facts and the law to support my position and close with a brilliant persuasive statement, but what I did not know at the time was that the “argument” part of a hearing was just the beginning of what I needed to know to cover a hearing confidently. In my daydream, I never imagined that I would not know even where to sit in the courtroom, how to announce my presence or what I needed to do to prepare for a hearing. For those just beginning their legal careers, here’s a list of things I wish someone had told me before I attended my first hearing. Most of the nuts and bolts of attending a hearing just aren’t covered in law school. Knowing these helpful hints will allow you to focus on your argument and keep you from being distracted by the procedural workings of the court. To compile this list I surveyed fellow litigators for hints, stories and tricks of the trade. But like everything involving lawyers, this advice comes with a caveat: Procedures vary greatly from court to court; be sure to check the local rules before filing a motion or attending a hearing. PREPARATION Know the unspoken and unofficial rules for each judge. Each judge has certain unwritten rules lawyers must follow. For instance, a retired judge I know would not acknowledge a lawyer in his courtroom if the lawyer had his briefcase on the counsel table. I remember one day watching a young lawyer who came in to argue his motion and the judge kept calling his name and asking for him. When he responded, “I am here your honor,” the judge just kept asking for him. Finally, one of the opposing lawyers took pity on the attorney and told him to remove his briefcase from the table. Once he did, the judge acknowledged him. Although most judges do not have such interesting nuances, some do. The bottom line is ask around and find out about your judge before your appearance date. Bring three copies of everything you plan to give the judge. If you have cases you plan to discuss or exhibits that will help your argument, bring along at least three copies of each: one copy for yourself, one copy for the judge and one copy for opposing counsel. If you cite a case in your argument, the judge often will want a copy of it, so be prepared. Bring your “Rules of Civil Procedure” book with you. There are so many stories attorneys have relayed to me that start differently but always end with “the moral of the story is this: Always bring your rule book with you.” Inevitably, some procedural question will come up in your hearing requiring you to consult the rules of civil procedure. Prepare an order for the judge to sign. Before attending a hearing, prepare an order for the judge to sign that generally grants or denies the motion you are arguing. If you win the motion, most judges will ask you to prepare the order consistent with the ruling. It is best to have an order in hand rather than submit it later. This ensures that the judge will not change the ruling after thinking about it for a while. It also allows opposing counsel the opportunity to object to the proposed order and have the judge immediately clarify his or her ruling. If the judge requires a special order rather than a general one, be certain you repeat the ruling back to the judge to clarify what the ruling is to yourself and to opposing counsel. Know who you represent and what you are arguing. Often as a new lawyer, you may be asked to cover a simple hearing for another attorney who, at the last minute, cannot go. While this is not a case that you are assigned to, it is imperative to find out about the case and the motion before appearing in court. A friend of mine covered a hearing for another lawyer and was quickly briefed before the hearing about the issues and the client’s positions on a relatively simple matter. However, what the lawyer failed to tell him — and what he failed to remember to ask — was whom he represented. Needless to say, when the judge asked the lawyers to announce their appearances on the record, he was unprepared. Fortunately, the other lawyers went first, and, by process of elimination, he was able to state who he represented. The bottom line is always be prepared, even if it is not your case. AT THE HEARING Know where your hearing is being held. In Dallas, it is common that a magistrate will hear your motion rather than the judge assigned to your case. In Austin, they have central settings docketing, meaning any number of judges may hear your motion. So when you arrive at the hearing, look at the docket sheet posted on the judge’s courtroom door, the counsel table or in the court administrator’s office (in Austin, this is on the bulletin board posted on the first floor of the courthouse) to determine the hearing’s location. If your case is not listed on the docket sheet, immediately see the court administrator. A colleague of mine once sat in an empty courtroom waiting for the judge and opposing counsel to arrive only to realize that the magistrate judge was hearing her matter in another courtroom. She missed her hearing, but luckily was able to have it rescheduled. Be sure to arrive early to the hearing to confirm that you are at the right place at the right time. Know where to sit when you arrive in the courtroom. As a new lawyer, you may not realize that your hearing set for 9 a.m. is not the only hearing set at that time. Many judges set several hearings at one time. If that is the case, you usually will sit behind the gate, where the general public sits, and wait for the judge to call your case. If you check the docket sheet when you arrive and discover that your hearing is the only one set at that time, proceed straight to the counsel table and begin to prepare for your argument. If you are unsure about where to sit or what to do, ask the bailiff. A bailiff is a great source of information. Find out whether you are required to sign in. Upon arriving at the hearing location, check the counsel table, the bailiff’s desk or the court administrator’s office for a sign-in sheet. Many judges use this method for calling cases rather than doing a typical roll call. If you do not sign in, the judge may presume you are not present and skip your hearing. Consequently, be sure to sign in when required, and when in doubt, ask the bailiff. Remember to announce yourself and whom you represent. It is easy to get so caught up in the substance of what you want to assert that you jump right in and begin to argue before introducing yourself to the judge and explaining who you represent. I know this from first-hand experience. Before my first hearing, I kept rehearsing in my head over and over again what I had prepared to say. When it was time for me to argue, I jumped in with both feet and began to plead my case. As soon as the judge could get a word in, he interrupted me with a stern voice and asked, “Counsel, who are you, who do you represent and what motion did you file?” In all of my excitement, I forgot the basics. So remember to introduce yourself and your case before beginning the argument. Know when to stop talking and sit down. I think this is the hardest rule to follow as a new lawyer. But if you can remember one thing, remember to sit down and stop talking as soon as the judge indicates that you have won. I was arguing a motion for summary judgment that had two alternative grounds. Once I finished the main argument, the judge said he agreed and was inclined to grant the motion. Instead of sitting down and thanking the judge for my victory, I continued to argue the alternative ground. When I finished my entire argument, the judge told me that I had almost changed his mind. It was a close call, so when you win, stop talking. The reverse also holds true. If you are losing, keep talking until told to stop. However, be careful to know when you have pushed the judge far enough. AFTER THE HEARING Bring all signed orders to the court administrator. You finished the hearing, you won, the judge signed the order you prepared in advance of the hearing and handed it back to you, so now what? Do not forget to take the signed order to the judge’s court administrator so that it can be filed in the record. If you leave with the order, it won’t be filed. It is also helpful to take a few extra copies of the order and hand it to the court administrator when you hand in the copy the judge signed. The court administrator will have your extra copies signed so that you can retain a copy of the signed order for your file. Remember, the court administrator keeps the original order the judge signed on the bench. Dionne Carney Rainey is an associate with Jenkens & Gilchrist in Dallas. After completing a clerkship in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, Rainey came to Jenkens, where she has been practicing law for the past five years. Rainey focuses her practice mainly on commercial litigation and media law matters.

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